Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 15, 2011

9-19 Time's a-wastin'

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Time's a-wastin'. Tomorrow is the end of the second week of the New Mexico Legislature's special session on redistricting. And not much has happened.
The first encouraging sign emerged the middle of last week when 13 of 15 Republican senators signed a bill redistricting the Senate so that no returning Republican senator gets hurt.
That feat was accomplished soon after Sen. Kent Cravens, an Albuquerque Republican, announced that he will be leaving the Senate to become director of governmental affairs for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
Senate Democrats also have an Albuquerque member, Sen. Eric Griego, who has announced his intent to leave the Senate to run for Congress. With those two advantages, Senate Democrats and Republicans might be able to get together on an agreeable redistricting plan.
It's about time. The general timetable reportedly in legislative minds calls for redistricting to be decided in about two weeks, followed by several days of discussion about Gov. Susana Martinez's 11 agenda items.
Sufficient money has been appropriated for a three week session ending September 27. By that time, the House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans and the governor need to agree on redistricting of the U.S. House, state House and Senate, Public Regulation Commission and state Board of Education districts.
Mere passage of redistricting legislation does not accomplish the task. Unless bipartisan agreement can be reached, including the governor, the court is going to end up drawing the new districts at a cost to the state of about $5 million in attorney fees.
It isn't important to fret about this session costing $50,000 a day. That is one-percent of my estimated cost to taxpayers of legal fees if everything goes to court.
All parties might as well agree now because if it goes to court, the baby will be split resulting in a least-change compromise. So let's make those compromises now -- even if it takes a few days longer. If it takes the entire 30 days, that is all right too.
Nothing on Gov. Martinez's agenda is much of an emergency. The capital outlay work would be good to get started soon. It will create more jobs and the money will come out of severance tax income rather than from the state's general fund.
It would be a real feather in everyone's cap if agreements can be reached. There will be some members leaving the House also, which may help the combining of districts there.
Another consideration is what New Mexico's population pattern will look like 10 years from now. Albuquerque's West Side is projected to continue its rapid growth so it shouldn't be shortchanged now.
Dona Ana County's Hispanic population is expected to grow enough that the 2nd Congressional District area of dominance could shift from the East Side in a decade.
One strategy being considered by Democrats this year is to make the southern congressional district even more Republican so the 1st Congressional District in the Albuquerque area can be made easier for a Democrat to continue winning.
Southern Democrats aren't happy with the possibility of being thrown under the bus this time because they think voting patterns will begin shifting in their favor before the end of this decade.
So where is state government's head right now? Is there a desire reach accord and save state taxpayers the money for a court solution to redistricting? Or will we see an effort to load up for the 2012 election campaigns?
Gov. Martinez and House Republicans appear to be aiming toward a GOP takeover of the House in next year's elections while Senate Republicans and Democrats show signs of wanting to make everything work.
For the past decade, and longer, the dynamics have been just the opposite. The House got its work done in a businesslike manner and the Senate was always in uproar. It's likely due to a change in personalities.
MON, 9-19-11

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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